Press Release
May 28, 2006


Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Nene Q. Pimentel, Jr. (PDP-Laban) today said he was assured by Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairman Benjamin Abalos that there is no truth to reports that the poll body has banned its officials and employees from appearing in congressional inquiries.

Pimentel said he was told by Abalos that Comelec people are not being restrained from attending congressional hearings.

He said he had asked Abalos to clarify this matter when he appeared before the Senate last week for the approval of the Comelecs budget for 2006.

The minority leader said that as explained by Abalos, he does not think that the order of Abalos is objectionable.

I made sure that I got a categorical answer from Chairman Abalos. It is on record that the Comelec chairman had clarified that they are not preventing their officials and employees from appearing before the Senate if summoned to do so, Pimentel said.

The so-called gag order imposed by the Comelec was denounced by some opposition leaders who saw it as the poll bodys version of the controversial Executive Order 464 which the Supreme Court has ruled as unconstitutional. EO 464 bars Cabinet members from testifying before Congress without presidential clearance.

Pimentel said he is willing to give the Comelec the benefit of the doubt when it explained that the gag order on issuing statements on peoples initiative was intended to preserve the poll bodys independence and not to compromise its position on the constitutionally of peoples initiative once a formal petition is brought before it for resolution.

The rationale behind the policy is to avoid a prejudgment of the issues which might put the Commission in a bind should a case be later on filed before it, said an en banc resolution of the Comelec.

Law level Comelec officials has been verifying the signatures of registered voters in support of a petition to amend the Constitution to pave the way for the adoption of a parliamentary system of government. Pimentel, however, questioned the legality of the verification process in view of the 1997 Supreme Court decision that there was no sufficient enabling law to govern the peoples initiative for amending the Constitution.

In a week or two, the Sigaw ng Bayan Coalition is expected to lodge a petition with Comelec to rule on the validity of the peoples initiative and subsequently to call for a plebiscite on the proposed amendment.

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